What would you do if you were trapped in a room with a group of people, knowing that one of you was a demon? Would you go all Father Merrin and shout “the power of Christ compels you” until you dropped dead from a heart attack? Would you rock back and forth in a corner crying for your mommy? Or, if you’re like me, would you say fuck it, grab a beer and watch the world burn? Whatever your answer, this is the question posed by Demon Protocol…
…Out now on Amazon Prime and written/directed by Kelly Parks (Universal Dead), Demon Protocol tells the story of a couple, Anna Wilson (Caroline Amiguet) and John Wilson (Matt Bradford), who hire a team of exorcists led by Father Prester J. Bedford (Gary Graham) and friend to Anna, Melanie (Bethany Regan). After the exorcism goes horribly wrong (do they ever work out, really?) the team must take action when one of them becomes possessed. The problem is, no one knows who the pesky demon has inhabited, meaning, you guessed it, they must enact…the Demon Protocol! (Cue dramatic sound effects).
From the beginning, Demon Protocol is about as big of a mess as Regan’s pea soup vomited on the walls. Right away, we’re thrown into the middle of the group of ghost/demon hunters at what feels halfway through their investigation of the Wilson house. No lead up. No introduction to who these people are. Just Mr. Wilson accusing the group of a variety of things with clever quips such as “you’re shady as fuck, priest”. As the audience, the film asks us to play catch up, and play it fast, because at a running time of only one hour, shit happens QUICKLY. This, of course, causes the pacing to suffer terribly. But who needs things like exposition or character development, am I right? Normally, I don’t have a problem with fast moving horror films, (Evil Dead 2 is a great example), but when the strength of your premise lies solely on the idea of this mystery regarding who’s the soul sucking demon in the room, the suspense you want to create goes right out the window faster than Father Karras when said demon is revealed just twenty minutes or so later. Just as we’re beginning to ask ourselves who it might be, the (obvious) answer is revealed, which is such a shame because even though the plot is a bit tired and overdone at this point, the guessing game is still fun.
As for the characters, well, there’s just not a whole lot to work with. I can tell that every actor/actress is trying (despite Matt Bradford looking like he’s dealing with a severe case of constipation when expressing fear), but when your introduction feels like we’re halfway into the film, there’s just not a whole lot of time for that important piece of character called depth. Bethany Regan does well at providing genuine emotion and a sense of mystery and Caroline is great as Mrs. Wilson, while Gary Graham is the real standout as Father Bedford, carrying with him a sense of presence that only adds to the complicated nature of his character, even if said character’s motivations don’t always make sense. This isn’t to say the acting is great, it isn’t, but in horror that can often be forgiven as long as the characters themselves are interesting. Like I said though, there’s just not a whole lot of meat on the proverbial bone for these actors/actresses to pull from, with so little time for any sort of backstory or build up before the horror. This is a key is sometimes missed in horror…it’s always better to get to know the characters before the terror is introduced. Without that, we don’t have much of a grasp on who anyone is, which creates a divide between the audience and understanding of how the characters react. Bad acting, bad lighting, bad effects (all of which Demon Protocol is guilty of), can all be forgiven, but you have to have relatable characters.
Speaking of the effects, there’s a reason I always tout practical FX over CGI whenever possible. Bad practical effects can have a cheesy fun to them, and they age well. Bad CGI, however, just looks BAD and, in Demon Protocol’s case, severely outdated. Digital black smoke around the demon and glowing red eyes marking possession don’t do enough to make the creature(s) stand out, and often look about as effective as CGI from the 90s (if you didn’t grow up with early CGI, count yourself lucky). Thankfully, “real” blood is used for what little bloodshed there is, and without naming names, looks pretty great covering the face of the possessed victim towards the end.
Demon Protocol also hurts itself quite a bit with a lack of explanation concerning the demon’s “rules”. How does the demon possess someone, as in why has it been sitting in this house when it seemingly could’ve possessed either of the Wilsons at any time? Why can’t it leave the house, or can it? What does it want? How does the cheap looking equipment brought in by these demon/ghost hunters work? I don’t need scientific formulas, but at least SOME kind of hand-wavy explanation would do just fine. There really isn’t much of a method to the madness. I often found myself asking “why” nearly every few minutes, especially in response to many of the choices made by Father Bedford and his tragically inexperienced team, including the whole idea of finding out who is possessed by the demon so they can get rid of it, when the reaction to the first possessed victim is to, err, take care of the problem with he/she in a far more senseless manner, no questions asked. At one point the demon asks, “how stupid can you be”, and I think that’s a pretty fair question to every damn person in Demon Protocol.
Between the ridiculously short runtime and lack of any consistent motivation from the characters, Demon Protocol is one that I don’t think Pazuzu would touch with a ten-foot hot poker. The film completely fails to deliver on the suspense implied by the premise (essentially wanting to be The Thing with demons). To Demon Protocol’s credit, it isn’t necessarily boring due to its quick pace and cheesy demeanor, and the 3rd act, though predictable, has its fun moments, but I wouldn’t expect it to make a top one hundred list of possession films anytime soon.
By Matt Konopka